THE CAR SHARE DUO HIT IT OFF!
PETER Kay broke hearts when he announced that Car Share was over – but in Sheffield their very own John and Kayleigh are still going strong.
Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher travel to training together and, unlike the hapless TV duo, have blossomed into the perfect couple. Since gaffer Carlos Carvalhal first deployed the pair in attack against Rotherham on April 4, the Owls have won six straight games to motor into the play-offs. Neither Fernando Forestieri nor £10m signing Jordan Rhodes have been able to dislodge them and Barry Bannan – the third wheel in this blue and white bromance – says their chemistry is why Wednesday tackle Fulham today as the division’s most in-form side. “Hoops and Fletch are really good mates off the pitch,” said the Scot. “The three of us play golf together a lot and we car-share to training. “It’s basically two genuine Scots and a fake one. I think Hoops has always wanted to be one of us. He even moved to Celtic! “We get on really well and I think that plays a big part in how good they are together up front. If you’ve got players who are mates, it invariably shows on the pitch.” Hooper scored 13 goals following a £5m switch from Celtic last season but suffered a serious hamstring injury in November and didn’t return until the start of April. Since then, the Owls haven’t dropped a point. “He’s been massive,” added Bannan. “Hoops was out for nearly four months and he’s a big player for the club. He gets goals, but it’s more than that. He connects play. He makes it easier for a midfielder to get the ball forward because he’s always there for a pass.
“That ability to come short is an ability that none of our other strikers has, so he’s changed the way we play.”
Another long-term absentee now back in the fold is Kieran Lee, whose winner against Ipswich last weekend marked only his second game in three and a half months.
Carvalhal has described the 28-year-old midfield dynamo as Wednesday’s own Andres Iniesta, though Bannan says it is Lee’s legs, not his technique, that have been most missed.
“To be quite honest, my game has dropped this season and I think that’s a direct consequence of Kieran not being in the team,” he admitted.
“When I play alongside him, he’s the one who runs off the ball.
“It takes people away and gives me more space to get on it and pass.
“And he’s always there giving you an angle to play off.
“I’ve said before that when you play alongside Kieran it’s almost like there’s two of him.
“You look up and he’s in the box, trying to score. Then, when they break, he’s back next to me trying to win the ball back.
“We’ve missed him a lot. In fact, if there’s one player in the entire squad you wouldn’t want to lose it’s probably Kieran Lee.”
Today’s Hillsborough showdown pits the two playoff favourites against each other in what could be a dress rehearsal for a meeting in the semis – or even at Wembley.
“I think people are looking at Fulham because of all the goals they’re scoring and saying ‘They are the team to beat’,” said Bannan. “But I don’t read too much into that.
“We were supposedly the in-form team last year.
“We finished sixth, we were playing good football, everybody wanted to watch us. Then we beat Brighton in the semis.
“But we ended up getting beaten in the final by Hull, so it all counted for nothing.
“It’s a whole different ball game in the play-offs.
“It’s not about form or good football.
“It’s about doing whatever it takes to get across the line.”
TRAVEL TONIC: Barry Bannan says Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher, inset, have re-ignited Wednesday’s season